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Lessons on lifeskills

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Trends Mere degrees are passé. Today's graduate needs a different set of lifeskills to make a mark

A nother year has rolled by, and soon our graduates will be up for campus calls. And, we'll hear the old lament: an alarming percentage of them are unemployable. Clearly, mindless memorise-and-pass degrees are passé in our borderless, digital universe.

To succeed in this re-defined workplace, education and training methods need complete re-jigging. Is anyone thinking of 21st Century skills?

“Workplace dynamics have shifted from individual performance to teamwork, iconic to team leadership, standalone innovation to co-creation,” says R. Ramkumar, vice-president, Corporate Marketing, Research & Communications, Cognizant, listing a roll-call of new millennium skills.

Cognizant will hire those with good communication/presentation skills, high levels of collaboration and networking ability, adaptability to multiple cultures, flexibility, a can-do attitude, and finally, domain knowledge.

Skills our kids need to “find themselves” in the 21st Century “is a topic for an essay, if not a seminar,” says educator V. Nandakumar.

Meaningful literacy, for him, includes good judgment, critical thinking, adaptability and readiness for service. Technology and eco-awareness are fine, but where is the persistence? Modern methods of teaching deliver “process understanding”, but where is the “conceptual understanding”?

Better sense of history is also a must, for which they need access to unbiased and disinterested material, he opines.

Naren, a high-schooler who learns in “unorthodox ways” has a preferred set of skills. In an ascending order, they are: ability to gather and retain knowledge. To prioritise problems, then analyse them. Opinions matter, so “You need to be able to convince people why they should follow your thinking. Looking people in the eye calmly and putting your ideas across without losing cool is a great skill.” These skills have a goal, he says. “Use them to fix the major problems the world faces.”

Research-based education

But, are we teaching them? “Most schools, if not all, are not,” says Nandakumar. Asking for a change in the curriculum in schools and colleges, he says teaching/learning should be built on application of research using platforms such as Wikipedia and online learning tutorials. And, learning has to be collaborative and in teams.

Naren wants classrooms fitted for quiet thinking before “kids see issues for themselves outside.”

Ramkumar, however, turns the argument on its head. “It's not Gen Y that needs to cultivate and nurture these skills. These come naturally to them as first-generation ‘digital natives'. It is Gen X that needs to unlearn and relearn to stay relevant as they are the ‘digital immigrants',” he says. Younger teachers, then?

But, skills need to be dressed in values. “Gen X is more values-conscious, more socially aware than us, and wants to be part of societal change,” says Ramkumar. He credits it to their techno-upbringing.

“This generation has grown up in virtual societies such as Facebook, Orkut, Linked-In, Google, Twitter and blogs — all enablers of good practices. In the “crowd-sourcing” environment (read Wikepedia), an army of content creators descends to correct factual inaccuracies, remove inappropriate content.”

In her book Mind In The Making, Ellen Galinsky, a child-education expert, breaks skills into seven chapters — “Focus and Self Control,” “Perspective Taking,” “Communicating,” “Making Connections,” “Critical Thinking,” “Taking on Challenges,” and “Self-Directed Engaged Learning”. All teachable through everyday activities.

Self-control, she says, can be taught through games such as Simon Says.

For perspective, read to the kids, then ask what the characters were thinking and feeling. Communication is asking “who, what, where and why” questions.

Making connections can be strengthened through sorting games.

Watching television with older kids and telling them to evaluate advertisements helps critical thinking. Strategising (how will you complete homework so you can play?) is taking on challenges. Self-directed learning happens when you allow children to make plans — ‘What do we do this week-end?' — and checking if those plans worked.

Geeta Padmanabhan

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